Review: Magpie Murders // A Russian Doll of Mysteries

Review by Mary Kat

  • Rating: 😻😻😻😻 /5
  • Recommend for: Fans of classic British mysteries

A Russian Doll of Mysteries

Intro

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a veritable Russian nesting doll of a book. The novel is first introduced by a fictional book editor Susan Ryeland, but her pages — a puzzling introduction warning about a life-changing mystery in the following pages — are swiftly replaced with a traditional Agatha Christie-style plot. This mystery — the book within the book, rather — is also named Magpie Murders. With full vigor, we are immersed into a post-WWII mystery set in a cozy British village and led by an earnest, astute detective by the name of Atticus Pund. Pund serves as our Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, as editor Susan later points out herself. Over two hundred pages, we are presented with a wide cast of characters and learn of their various motives, lies, and questionable alibis.

However, just as we readers expect to come to the end of Magpie Murders and wait for Atticus Pund’s brilliant reveal of the truth behind the duplicity, Susan interjects. The last chapters of Magpie Murders (the Atticus Pund version, that is) are missing, and we are left without an answer, just as Susan is. She adopts the role of detective in search of the missing chapters, which draws her into a knot of deception, anagrams, and murder. From this point, the novel takes off and shines with its unique construction. Although the first half of the novel embraced a traditional genre pastiche, in the second half all genre rules are twisted, turned, and exposed.

All The Best

Magpie Murders is a satisfying, enjoyable read and one that kept me turning and anxiously awaiting the conclusion. The brunt of Magpie Murders rests on the success or failure of its not one, but two, mysteries. And I’m happy to report that Anthony Horowitz delivers, providing enough puzzles, wordplay, and twists to satisfy even a seasoned mystery reader.

Moreover, Horowitz pulls back the curtain and teases the tricks of the trade — the machinations of a mystery writer first putting pen to paper and plot to print. It’s a knowing and delightful peek for any mystery lover, which I really enjoyed.

Not My Favorite

I’ll admit that the book has certain weaknesses, despite the unique premise. The pacing can get a bit tedious at points, particularly as Susan slowly builds her case and interviews suspects. Unlike a typical fictional detective, she appears to be constrained by the responsibilities and duties of daily life. At times, reading her navigating the mundane challenges of scheduling, working, and managing a relationship wore thin on my interest. In particular, her romantic relationship seemed a bit stilted and provided an unnatural shoehorn in the climax and finishing pages. Despite these faults, the book largely succeeds.

Verdict

Overall, I was pleased with this spin on a traditional mystery. As even fictional Susan Ryeland agrees, the best part of any mystery novel is the conclusion — when the facade is no longer, the lies come to light, and the truth is finally revealed. As much as I love guessing the culprit in the preceding pages, there’s nothing like reading a well-earned and surprising conclusion in the last few pages. In Horowitz’s depiction with two nested mysteries, I had the joy of experiencing this moment twice.

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